"How Baghdad Became a City of Corruption"
"The Sunni Rise Again"
"Death and Dollars in the New Iraq"
"The corruption is unbelievable,” says Ghassan al-Atiyyah, a political scientist and activist. “You can’t get a job in the army or the government unless you pay; you can’t even get out of prison unless you pay. Maybe a judge sets you free but you must pay for the paperwork, otherwise you stay there. Even if you are free you may be captured by some officer who paid $10,000 to $50,000 for his job and needs to get the money back.” In an Iraqi version of Catch-22 everything is for sale. One former prison detainee says he had to pay his guards $100 for a single shower. Racketeering is the norm: one entrepreneur built his house on top of a buried oil pipeline, drilled into it and siphoned off quantities of fuel...
There is more to Iraqi corruption than the stealing of oil revenues by a criminalised caste of politicians, parties and officials. Critics of Nouri al-Maliki, Prime Minister since 2006, say his method of political control is to allocate contracts to supporters, wavering friends or opponents whom he wants to win over. But that is not the end of the matter. Beneficiaries of this largesse “are threatened with investigation and exposure if they step out of line”, says one Iraqi observer. Even those who have not been awarded contracts know that they are vulnerable to being targeted by anti-corruption bodies. “Maliki uses files on his enemies like J Edgar Hoover,” the observer says. The system cannot be reformed by the government because it would be striking at the very mechanism by which it rules. State institutions for combating corruption have been systematically defanged, marginalised or intimidated.
Demonstrations by Sunni, in their tens of thousands, began with the arrest of the bodyguards of a Sunni politician on 20 December and are still continuing. For the first time since 2003 the Sunni – one fifth of the 33 million Iraqi population – are showing signs of unity and intelligent leadership as they try to escape political marginalisation in a country ruled since the fall of Saddam Hussein by the Shia majority in alliance with the Kurds...
The Sunni demonstrations, now entering their third month, raise a question crucial to the future of Iraq: how far will the Sunni, once dominant, accept a lower status? Members of the government fear the real agenda of the Sunni is not reform but regime change, a counter-revolution reversing the post-Saddam Hussein political settlement. “Shia leaders believe they have been elected, are legitimate and any change should come through an election,” said one senior official. “If there should be any attempt to take power from them by force, they will fight.”
The Sadrists are seeking to transform themselves from a feared paramilitary organisation into a respected political movement. There are parallels here with the way Sinn Fein and the IRA in Northern Ireland demilitarised during the 1990s in order to gain power constitutionally and share it with their former enemies. Earlier this year Muqtada attended a Christian service in the Our Lady of Salvation Church in central Baghdad where some 50 worshippers had been slaughtered by al-Qa’ida in 2010. He later prayed in the Sunni Abdul-Qadir al-Gailani mosque in central Baghdad. He supports the protests in Anbar and Sunni areas on the condition they do not demand regime change. He said: “We support the demands of the people but I urge them to safeguard Iraq’s unity.” He attacked Maliki for giving the impression that the Shia want domination over Sunni, Kurds, Christians, Mandeans and Jews in Iraq. He added that “what was happening in Anbar is not a crisis, but a healthy phenomenon that reflects a popular and democratic movement...”
Kurdistan presents itself as the new economic tiger of the Middle East, flush with the prospect of exploiting its oilfields. The tall towers of two new luxury hotels rise high above the Kurdish capital Erbil, the oldest inhabited city in the world whose skyline had previously been dominated by its ancient citadel for thousands of years.
Nearby, a glittering new airport has replaced the old Iraqi military runway. In contrast to Baghdad and other Iraqi cities the cars in the streets look new. Above all, and again in sharp contrast to further south, there is a continuous supply of electricity.
“I cannot find employees to go and work in the oilfield,” complains a Kurdish manager in a Western oil company. “I cannot even find rooms in the new hotels for visiting executives because they are so full.” Convoys of shiny black vehicles conveying delegations of visiting businessmen from Germany, France, the UAE and Turkey race through the city...
In many respects the exaggerated expectations generated by the Kurdish tiger resemble those surrounding the Celtic tiger in Ireland before 2008. Both nations are small, long-oppressed and impoverished, and feel history has treated them unfairly. Having endured hard times for so long, both may be vulnerable to seeing a boom as being permanent when it is in fact part-bubble.